Vulnerability and leadership; a hot topic at the moment. When you ask someone what they see as the core strengths a leader needs to have today, it is common to hear words such as; vision, integrity, confidence, strategic planning, excellent communicator, delegates, trustworthiness, and courage. All are appearing in a Google search this morning.
The list is not exhaustive by the way; I could go on.
However, there is one leadership attribute that I believe is missing from the above list and many others that I found when researching this article. That quality is: vulnerability and this post will discuss why vulnerability is a leadership strength and not a weakness.
If we are honest with ourselves, we all have moments when we feel vulnerable whether it is sharing a few home truths with a close friend or family member or doing a presentation to senior management for the first time when presentation skills or not your strength.
The reality is we all have weaknesses, no one is perfect, and we all experience vulnerability at some point.
However, too often leaders are put on a pedestal and subsequently feel its unacceptable for them to show their weaknesses. How often do you see an Olympic gold medalist talking about a weakness without it being followed up by, “I need to work harder, focus on my technique, work on my mental strength”. The meaning of what the athlete is saying is; their weakness is not acceptable, and they need to focus on building more strengths.
In general, business has historically viewed vulnerability as a weakness. So why do I disagree?
Vulnerability And Leadership
In the last few years, there has been a growing shift in this view. Brene Brown suggests that vulnerability is a crucial leadership quality, one of ‘the’ must have strengths for a leader to succeed in today’s business world.
She defines vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure” and suggests that it takes courage to be a vulnerable leader
Why Is It Important For A Leader To Be Vulnerable?
Brené Brown, a leading expert on social connection, discovered through her research that vulnerability is what lies at the root of social connection.
The vulnerability here does not mean being weak or submissive. Instead, it implies the courage to be yourself. It means replacing “being professional and keeping a distance” with uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.
From a leadership perspective, Dr. Brown suggests that being a vulnerable leader means being ok
with uncertainty while ‘holding the space’ in an organisation.
Sometimes we take risks, and they pay off. At times they don’t. A vulnerable leader can handle this with confidence and strength.
When Does A Leader Show Vulnerability?
The truth? We all have opportunities every day in work to be vulnerable.
In her talks, Dr. Brown shares examples such as:
- Calling an employee or colleague whose child is not well.
- Reaching out to someone who has just had a loss in their family.
- Asking someone for help.
- Taking responsibility for something that went wrong at work.
- Or sitting by the bedside of a colleague or employee with a terminal illness.
- Asking your team for feedback on your strengths and weaknesses so that you
can be a better as a leader.
How Does A Leader Show Vulnerability?
One important thing to remember is we are not talking about ‘letting it all hang out’ and saying exactly how you feel about anyone and everyone. We do need to have boundaries as leaders.
Several years ago, a close friend was managing a team whose functional group was under an organisational review which lasted close to two years. During this time, she managed her team through their concerns of redundancy. Not once did she express her own concerns about her future to her team. She did that to her partner and close friends.
In summary, this quote from Simon Sinek seems to capture it appropriately.
“A leader, first and foremost, is a human. Only when we have the strength to show our vulnerability can we truly lead.” Simon Sinek
I know this may be a touch controversial and I am keen to hear your thoughts.
Until next time,
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